A Short History of    


In 1968, the Canadian government transported thirty-two prefabricated houses into Pelly Bay. Until then, the Arviligjuaqmiut lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Small family groups, living in igluit (igloos) and skin tents, followed the caribou that sustained them. Occasionally, groups would come together to hunt and fish. In 1937, when the Catholic mission was established here, groups would meet for Christmas celebrations at Kugaarjuk (the mouth of the Kugajuk River), then separate again to pursue their nomadic cycle.

The first Catholic missionary, Father Pierre Henri, arrived in 1935. He built a small stone chapel/house, but soon learned that stone wasn't a good insulator in this harsh climate. Instead, he adopted Inuit ways, living in an iglu and wearing traditional Inuit clothing during the cold months. He and Father Franz Van de Velde, who remained a powerful force in the community until 1965, built the stone church in 1941.  Recently, the Hamlet of Pelly Bay received a government grant to restore the deteriorating church as a historic site.

Until 1955, when the DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line construction began, people here had almost no contact with the outside world. In 1829, English explorer John Ross camped nearby, but no whalers or Hudson's Bay Co. trading post ever came to Pelly Bay. Ice jams around the islands guarding the Bay's mouth made access almost impossible.

The rapid arrival of the modern world has led to an interesting blend of cultures. It's not unusual when visiting a home to find family members watching the latest movie on a large-screen TV, while eating raw arctic char cut from a fish lying on a square of cardboard in the middle of the room.

Created by the Canadian government to help assert its sovereignty over the North, Pelly Bay is now a small settlement with a wage economy. Although traditional activities remain very important here, the community is in rapid transition: cable TV has arrived, and Internet access began in 1998.  In 2000 Pelly Bay became officially know as "Kugaaruk", which is the traditional name for the area.  Only a few elders who have lived more than half their lives in the old ways on the land are still alive. And while efforts are being made to preserve Inuktitut, English is now the first language of many preschoolers.

Courtesy of Steve Metzger

Figures made of stones like this one

are called inukshuk. They were used

to mark location or direction. This

one and some others, mark the mouth

of the Kugaardjuq River in Kugaaruk.

The Birth of Nunavut

Until April 1, 1999,  Pelly Bay was part of the Northwest Territories.  On that date, Canada's newest Territory, Nunavut was born.  Pelly Bay (Kugaaruk) is one of the communities that make up Canada's newest and largest territorial region. Several years ago, Pelly Bay was one of the towns considered to become the capital of Nunavut.  Kugaaruk is in the very heart of Nunavut. Iqaluit is the capital of Nunavut.